Tom Fulks

Congressional candidate Justin Fareed has troubling connection to big oil

If Justin Fareed keeps running for Congress, voters might just find out who he really is and how he might actually vote on offshore oil.

A recent San Luis Obispo Tribune article provides the most comprehensive look yet at the 29-year-old Republican who’s setting up a third run at the 24th District seat, challenging Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, for the second time.

This time, Fareed’s claims about his background and the source of his financial backing might get far greater scrutiny.

Until now, Fareed’s well-funded campaigns — with peculiar ads featuring him running around with a football — hadn’t prompted enough questions such as: How and why did such an untested, inexperienced, abjectly unqualified dilettante raise so much money — and from whom?

The Tribune rightfully questions why Fareed’s claim of being a “third-generation rancher” wasn’t reported on his federal financial filings for the past five years.

House rules require all candidates to report non-federal positions they hold — paid or unpaid — in order to avoid conflicts of interest and ethical issues.

Given Donald Trump’s persistent flouting of common morality and behavioral standards, it’s understandable why disciples like Fareed might feel unbound by such antiquated notions as transparency and honor.

This lack of integrity is concerning, but even more troubling is Fareed’s connection to big oil and his palling around with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the Trump administration’s point man on opening up our coastal waters to offshore oil drilling.

Zinke took time away from his busy schedule last April — opening national parks to extractive industries, stripping national monuments of their federal environmental protections — to host a fundraiser for Fareed in Santa Barbara.

Accepting the rapacious Zinke’s embrace was a pretty bold move for a young man who wants to represent a district with a long history of protecting its coast and natural resources.

The Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969 helped catalyze the creation of the U.S. EPA, the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, the California Coastal Act, the California Coastal Commission, Earth Day and any number of environmental rules and regulations such as the California Environmental Quality Act — all of which Zinke certainly would eliminate, if he could.

In the 2016 race, Fareed raised at least $47,000 from PACs directly funded by the oil and gas industry.

While Santa Barbara County encompasses about 56 percent of 24th District’s voters, those of us in San Luis Obispo County have our own history with offshore oil politics separate and distinct from our southern neighbors.

Almost a year ago, the hard-right majority of county supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold and John Peschong voted to oppose federal marine sanctuary status for the SLO County coastline.

Their rationale at the time was that federal rules already prevented offshore drilling, that county voters had protected the coast by passing Measure A in 1986, and that a marine sanctuary created unnecessary bureaucracy.

That, of course, was before Zinke and Trump declared open season for drilling along the nation’s entire Pacific and Atlantic coasts — except Florida, of course, home of Trump’s winter lair, Mar- a-Lago.

Measure A, which requires voter approval of any permit issued for onshore support facilities such as new refineries, piers and pipelines, offers a false sense of security. Just about any ballot fight can be won with enough money, and big oil has plenty.

Relying on a 32-year-old ordinance few SLO County residents can remember or have even heard of isn’t reassuring.

All it takes to undo more than three decades of local coastal protection is a vote of 50 percent plus one.

More worrisome are the words of SLO County GOP chairman Randal Jordan, who told The Tribune: “We are in favor of offshore oil exploration and drilling...”

Should we expect our devoutly Republican board majority to agree?

When secretive office seekers like Fareed snare endorsements from the local Republican Central Committee — and, most likely, the three Tea Party supervisors — no one should be sanguine about Measure A’s coastal protections, which are wholly dependent upon a fragile voter majority.

With political operators like Fareed, Compton, Arnold and Peschong around, no one should feel confident in Measure A’s political durability or its ability to hold the line against the Trump administration.

Even state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Monterey, didn’t mention Measure A in his recent Tribune opinion piece railing against offshore oil, suggesting he’s either unaware of it — or he didn’t think it was worth mentioning.

Fareed and his big oil backers surely don’t seem worried about it.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks serves on the San Luis Obispo County Democratic Central Committee. His column runs every other Sunday, in rotation with conservative columnist Andrea Seastrand.

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